Business owners fed up with nearby homeless camp in Orchards area

A view from NE 107th Ave. in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago, where a large homeless camp has been set up and has been growing for more than a year. Photo by Paul Valencia
A view from NE 107th Ave. in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago, where a large homeless camp has been set up and has been growing for more than a year. Photo by Paul Valencia

Property crime on the rise, and fights with weapons have been witnessed in the area

A homeless camp near the Orchards area of Vancouver has led to a rise in crime and intimidating behavior from those who reside in the tents and vehicles just steps away from several businesses. 

Business owners and their customers are discouraged with what they say has been a growing problem in the neighborhood for almost two years.

A couple of weeks ago, witnesses saw a fight that originated in the camp and spilled out onto NE 107th Avenue, south of Fourth Plain Blvd. and west of Gher Road, close to NE Coxley Drive. People swinging two-by-fours at each other, swearing, threatening, and throwing rocks.

“It’s really unfair to citizens, to businesses, to have this continuing,” said Dr. Rick Jackson, who opened his office at 5512 NE 107th Ave., in the 1980s. 

Now, the Ashbrook Medical Family Practice is just yards away from a homeless camp that he said appears to be growing in recent months.

“I can’t take care of it. I have no legal ability to enforce anything,” Jackson said. “All I can do is ask the people who take my tax money to take care of it like I think they’re supposed to. They haven’t been able to yet. I don’t know all the reasons. I just know it is not OK.”

The Washington State Department of Transportation owns the land that campers have occupied. 

Longtime business owner has seen the growth of a homeless camp on state land in the past couple of years and is hoping a government agency can find solutions.
Map courtesy Google Maps

Kelly Hanahan, a public information officer for the Southwest region of WSDOT, said the state is in the process of selling the land, although there is no timeline for when the land will be put up for auction. Once the transaction occurs, “the site would be cleaned up as a condition of sale,” Hanahan said.

Until then, there is not much the state can do to move those in the camp because of a lack of beds for them in the region. 

In the meantime, Kim Kapp, public affairs manager for Vancouver Police, advised area residents and business owners to continue calling the police when they see criminal behavior.

Kapp said police have responded to one nearby business 47 times since the camp materialized. There are 39 incidents that police have responded to at another business.

“We’ve been out there multiple times to work with businesses in the area,” Kapp said. “I understand they are fed up with all the things going on.”

Kapp said while police will always respond to reports of criminal activity, the police can only do so much in regard to the homeless camp itself.

This campsite is just off the road at NE 107th Ave. and NE 53rd Street. There are several businesses nearby. Business owners have called for police response dozens of times in recent months. Photo by Paul Valencia
This campsite is just off the road at NE 107th Ave. and NE 53rd Street. There are several businesses nearby. Business owners have called for police response dozens of times in recent months. Photo by Paul Valencia

Jamie Spinelli is in charge of HART for the city of Vancouver — Homeless Assistance and Resource Team.

In general, she said, the city’s responsibility is the roadway. These camps are just off of 107th Ave., which turns into 58th Street. HART, along with help from Vancouver police, have towed vehicles from the roadway and have assisted with several clean-up operations over the months to pick up debris near or on the roadways and sidewalks. A port-a-potty has been placed in the area and it is serviced, as well.

“The city is doing everything that we legally can for a place that is not our jurisdiction,” Spinelli said.

Jackson said the clean-up operations are helpful, but the camps are back in disarray just days later. 

State land. City streets. But no satisfactory answers for the business owners. At least not yet, Jackson said.

“Philosophically, it’s not OK. It’s not fair to citizens,” Jackson said. “Whichever government entity is in charge is not doing what they should do to help citizens and taxpayers who live and work here.”

Jackson said his water bill has skyrocketed since the camp originated.

“We’ve put locks on the spigots outside, but that doesn’t stop them,” he said.

He has witnessed someone try to steal the catalytic converter from his vehicle in his parking lot. And there are human feces left throughout his property.

Jackson went on the record with Clark County Today. Other nearby business owners spoke to us but only if their names — and the names of their businesses — were left out of the story.

One local business now keeps its restroom locked after a person from the camp wandered in, used the restroom, defecated on the floor and threw waste on the walls. 

Another business owner had a similar experience, only the person who went into the bathroom locked the door and refused to leave. Police were called and had to escort the person out of the business.

That business had allowed people from the camp to use the restroom. Not anymore. In fact, that business now locks its doors even during business hours. Customers have to ring a bell in order for employees to identify whether the person is a customer or someone from the camp. 

Businesses have had their electricity stolen, too. And several businesses reported having higher water bills than before the campers arrived.

One business had several catalytic converters stolen from company vehicles. 

It is not just theft that concerns the business owners. It is the proximity to unstable people.

“That was scary,” one employee of an anonymous company said regarding the fight a couple of weeks ago. “They went after each other with weapons. It’s just a matter of time before guns are going to come out.”

“Our patients see the camps there. Our patients are concerned. Makes them a little nervous coming to see us,” Jackson said. “Our employees have great reason to be concerned. We are so grateful they come to work anyway. I feel bad they don’t feel as secure as they might because of all of that.”

“We don’t feel safe,” another business owner said.

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  1. John Smith

    This property is owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation. And I don’t see it listed for sale anyplace.

    They could clean this mess up in a day if they wanted to.

  2. Susan

    So now, local businesses need to take matters into their own hands due to the UNWILLINGNESS OF ANYONE IN AUTHORITY to address the issues of crime, filth, illicit drug-use, and untreated mental-health.

    I’m confused… I thought that’s what these “public servants” (who are in office and supposedly in charge of things) were supposed to do with my tax dollars that I’m assessed by the City of Vancouver?

    Wake up, Vancouver Mayor Annie! Wake up, Vancouver City Council!

    Us law-abiding, tax-paying citizens are getting tired of your b++++hit and empty promises! The only issues you really care about are ones related to Kirkland Developers and others who are wanting tax-forgivness on their next chrome-n-glass waterfront monstrosity.

    When the City officials and the law are unwilling to address the problem, then it soon spirals out of control. I’m surprised there hasn’t already been reports of people taking justice into their own hands and clearing out this cesspool of filth. I am NOT condoning such action but, when nothing is done about a problem of this magnitude, people tend to figure out how to deal with it themselves. And that could get very ugly, very quickly.

  3. Rubicon

    How many of you were children in the 40s-60s? Did you see homeless camps strewn here and there? NO. The average American citizen needs to wake up and recognize that “America” has the widest financial gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.”

    Since the early 1990s, the US/World Markets have spawned multi-billionaires who pay very few taxes while making huge profits in the US/EU/UK Financial Markets. The US is no longer served by the Federal Govt. All that power and privilege is now in the hands of Financial Centers:The FED, Big Banks,Big Insurance, Big Real Estate. Our high poverty rates, and homeless camps will only further grow. We are turning into a 3d World Status.


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